Competing on Customer Outcomes

Three revenue models can help companies capitalize on customer satisfaction.

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In his 1969 book The Marketing Mode, Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt immortalized a gentleman named Leo McGivena, who reportedly said: “Last year 1 million quarter-inch drill bits were sold — not because people wanted quarter-inch drill bits but because they wanted quarter-inch holes.”1 A half-century later, this insight is as compelling as it ever was — customers still want to buy meaningful outcomes (a particular sensation, a tangible benefit, or some combination of the two), not products and services. What’s changing is companies’ ability to become more accountable for those outcomes by helping customers navigate three critical checkpoints: accessing the solution, consuming (that is, experiencing or using) it, and getting it to perform as expected or above expectation.

Even so, most companies do not stake their success on these checkpoints. Instead, they sell quarter-inch drills and promise customers that the quarter-inch holes they desire will follow. Indeed, a revenue model focused on transferring the ownership of a product or service to the buyer may appear prudent because revenue accrues up front, and any risk associated with access, consumption, and performance is passed on to customers. But in reality it places an unnecessary burden on customers and ultimately shrinks the opportunity in the market. This contraction occurs when, for instance, customers are priced out or forgo a purchase because it is inconvenient, when they perceive ownership as too risky and decide not to buy, and when they resolve to pay less to account for the possibility that they will not make sufficient use of their purchase or that it will not perform as advertised.

Technological advances are enabling companies to rewrite the rules of commerce. Mobile communication, cloud computing, the internet of things, advanced analytics, and microtransactions offer sharper, more timely information that can illuminate when and how customers access and consume their products and services, and whether and how well those products and services perform. We call this information impact data — it enables companies to track and understand what happens to their solutions beyond the moment of purchase.

The way we see it, impact data — and the technologies that deliver and analyze it — is transforming corporate accountability for customer outcomes from a fashionable marketing slogan into a strategic imperative.



1. T. Levitt, “The Marketing Mode: Pathways to Corporate Growth” (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969).

2. Markedu, “Pay Per Laugh Teatreneu — Case Study Award Winning Campaign,” Oct. 30, 2015, YouTube video, 1:27,

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Vanel Beuns
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